… As Chinese cash-in on multi-billion dollar black market
A Confidente investigation has uncovered how Namibia is being used as a conduit by a syndicate of at least 22 local Chinese business people, to transport truckloads of protected Mukula timber to the Asian country, as part of a multi-billion dollar cartel that spans across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa. Patience Nyangove and Marianne Nghidengwa investigates…
NAMIBIA is being used as a transit point by a syndicate of at least 22 local Chinese business people, to transport truckloads of protected Mukula timber to the Asian country, as part of a multi-billion dollar ring stretching from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia and South Africa.
These revelations follow the release of 35 Namibian trucks, which had been impounded at Zambian border posts, amid confirmed reports this week that a further 194 trucks from Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania are still impounded, without the necessary paperwork to transport their cargo.
This has led to Zambian authorities to suspect that a well-organised global syndicate is operating in the region.
Confidente learnt that of the 35 Namibian trucks released, 22 belong to Chinese business people operating in the Land of the Brave.
Several senior government sources expressed fears this week that hollowed tree trunks could be used to smuggle contraband, like rhino horns and elephant tusks, as well as skins of endangered species, to Asia.
There are also fears that the DRC’s openness to trading in Mukula timber has created a loophole, in that companies are using this to crack open in transit routes, through countries like Zambia, who view the tree as a protected species.
A Confidente investigation has revealed that Zambia had initially detained 466 haulage trucks that were destined for Namibia, Tanzania and South Africa, since February, as authorities verified the authenticity of their cargo import permits.
It was further revealed this week that Namibian haulage trucks, with cargo belonging to 10 Chinese business people domiciled in Namibia, are still being detained in Zambia, over charges that they do not have the necessary paperwork to transport the Mukula timber.
The multi-billion dollar industry, Confidente has learnt ships its cargo to China and Vietnam, where there is a huge market for rhino horns, animal skins and the Mukula timber, which is used to make drugs, furniture and the butts of guns, among other uses.
Investigations by Confidente have also revealed how at least 194 trucks, laden with the Mukula tree timber, are still detained in Zambia, amid questions around their documentation.
According to sources from Namibia’s Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation, 466 trucks were initially impounded in Zambia.
Of that number, 272 trucks were found to have proper documents, while 194 trucks did not.
Confidente understands that those without the proper documents will be dealt with according to Zambian laws and, on case by case basis.
Sources said that diplomatic talks had been held between Namibia, DRC, Zambia and Tanzania last month, about the future of the impounded trucks, eventually leading to the release of the 272 trucks, including the 35 bound for Namibia.
It was further revealed that the trucks without documents would have to forfeit their cargo to the Zambian government, and that the trucks may also be seized, depending on merits of each case.
Most smuggled commodity in the world
The Mukula tree is a protected high-quality species found in Zambia, and the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development has stated that according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the exotic hardwood is the single-most smuggled commodity in the world.
There is a high demand for the raw wood in Asian markets, most notably China and Vietnam.
To curb the illicit timber trade and deforestation, and to promote value-addition and beneficiation in the Zambian timber industry, the Zambian government had introduced a moratorium on the harvesting and exporting of Mukula and other timber species.
This moratorium was lifted in May 2013, leading to an increase in the trade of these commodities.
On 31 May this year, the Zambian government announced a ban on the export of untreated (round wood or log) timber of all tree species, which came into immediate effect.
On 1 April, the Zambian government had also announced an in transit (road and rail) ban on raw timber through the country, with immediate effect.
Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) Chief Executive Officer, Tarah Shaanika, confirmed this week to Confidente that there were still some Namibian-registered haulage trucks, laden with cargo, detained in Zambia.
He also confirmed all the cargo in the Namibian trucks was destined for China, and the owners of all the cargo are Chinese.
“I know there are some Namibian trucks not released, and I don’t know the reasons why those trucks haven’t been released, when some of the trucks, whose cargo belongs to the same person, and are carrying the same load, and have the same paperwork, have been released. Why would they release some trucks and refuse to release the rest? It doesn’t make any sense to me,” Shaanika said.
Asked whether the NCCI is aware that some of the detained trucks could have been used to smuggle illegal contraband or transport timber illegally, Shaanika said that the NCCI wasn’t aware of this.
“The owners of the cargo are Chinese, and in any case, it’s not our duty to know who the owners of the cargo are. All we know is that the cargo is destined for China. Our interest is only in transporting legal cargo. We don’t care about who the owner is, or where the cargo is going. If Zambia is saying the trucks are carrying illegal goods, we challenge them to produce the proof, and if indeed there is any illegal cargo in those trucks, then Zambia can deal with such cases according to its laws,” Shaanika said.
Multi-billion dollar industry
Namibian investigative journalist John Grobler last reported in Africa Geographic that Asian timber traders are using Namibia as their transit backdoor, to export raw logs from the region, at a rate of thousands of trees every month.
He reported that an estimated 250 to 300 containers of raw timber are leaving Walvis Bay for China every month, with each container carrying cargo valued at between N$455 000 to N$650 000 per container, which translates to about N$195 million monthly and nearly N$2.4 billion annually.
The wood-smuggling route is allegedly the same as the one followed by the illicit trade in rhino horn, ivory and pangolin scales and skins, among others.
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, on Wednesday told Confidente that she is trying to get the exact number of Namibian trucks that have been released, and the number of those still detained, before further action is taken.
“The NCCI is not telling me the exact number of Namibian trucks impounded in Zambia. I received a note from them saying that there is a combined 62 Namibian trucks detained and released. I wrote them a letter today, asking them to tell me the total number of the trucks. Unfortunately that is all I can do at this stage,” she said.
It has been reported internationally that it is not only China which is involved in the illegal trading of timber, but that European and United States companies are participating in the trade from the DRC, while breaking not only Congolese, but also their own laws.
The report by Global Witness adds timber to diamonds, gold and other natural resources that are abundant in Congo, and that have been smuggled out of the country.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015